Lexmark’s technical strength has always been in laser technology ever since the days when the company was IBM’s printer division. So when Lexmark told me it was quite excited about this entry-level mono laser printer I was very interested to see what all the kerfuffle was about.
Styled in dark grey and silver and with a surprisingly small footprint, the E120n looks neat and functional. When in use, the footprint is extended by the need to load paper at the front by folding down the printer’s front panel and fitting a separate smoked plastic cover. You also need to unfold a paper rest from the top surface to support output pages. The paper tray can take up to 150 sheets and there’s no facility for a second tray.
The neat little control panel provides two simple buttons to cancel and continue a job and five indicator LEDs for status functions, like low toner, paper out and paper jam. More complex information is provided by using combinations of LEDs, not a system we’re that happy with, as you need to make constant reference to the user guide, and this is only available on the accompanying CD.
The printer comes supplied with its consumables pre-installed, but changing them is very simple, too. Hinge up the front cover and you can slide the very slim toner cartridge in without difficulty. Similarly, the photoconductor unit slides in from the back, so the two marry up inside. The printer comes with a rather meagre ‘starter’ toner cartridge, good for just 500 pages.
The printer can be configured as a local device, linking through a USB 2.0 cable, or a network one, linking through 10/100 Ethernet. Either way, software installation is easy and problem-free.
The driver offers all the usual facilities, including watermarks, overlays and multi-page per sheet prints. We were intrigued by an option for two-sided printing, as it would have been exceptional to have duplex facilities in a printer at this price. In fact it’s only manual duplexing, but Lexmark has made it as simple as possible. You take the bundle of papers from the output tray, put them straight back into the input tray without any concerns about flipping or rotating them, and press the Continue button. The final documents come out correctly collated.
It’s easy to become cynical when you test printers week after week and they never approach their rated performance. While the E120n doesn’t hit its speed rating, it does come very close to its rated ‘first page out’ time. We produced our 15 x 10cm PhotoPrint at the printer’s highest resolution in just 10 seconds. For a printer in this price range, this speed is exceptional.
These results continued into the text and text and graphics prints, where five pages printed in 23 seconds each, giving a normal mode print speed of just over 13ppm. Since the rated top speed is 19ppm (probably for draft mode), this is a lot closer than most printers get.
Print quality from this little laser is pretty good in all respects. Text prints clean and black, with no noticeable spatter and reasonably clean tints in business graphics. Greyscales are well-defined and our photo test print – not most lasers’ favourite print sample – was generally well produced. There was some slight banding in the sky area, however, and the so-called ‘1200dpi quality’ output looked a bit coarse.
Even though the printer is so responsive, it manages to produce its pages quietly. This is partly due to the simple path paper, which follows from input tray to output on top of the machine.
There are two consumables in the E120n, starting with a photoconductor unit, which has a long life of 25,000, 5 per cent pages and a low cost of around £35. The more important running cost derives from the toner cartridge though, which lasts for 2,000 pages and costs either £46 or £63, depending on whether you’re happy to go along with Lexmark’s return programme.
The return programme obliges you to use the cartridge only once and to return it to Lexmark. A responsible attitude to recycling is praiseworthy, but with the review sample, there was no indication of how or where to return the cartridge. We hope final retail units will come with full details and return packaging.
Even using the substantially cheaper return programme cartridge, the cost per page on this printer comes out at 2.91p, the highest figure we’ve seen for a mono laser in the last eighteen months. If you object to sending the cartridge back (or want to refill it), you pay 3.79p per page. It seems to us that this high running cost is likely to promote refilling, rather than encourage recycling.
In many ways, this is an excellent mono laser printer. It’s quick by most standards, and very quick for a machine costing under £100. It’s cheap to buy, it produces good quality prints and is very easy to use. So why shouldn’t everybody dash out and buy one? Simply put, it’s the most expensive mono laser to run that I’ve tested. Not by much, but at 3p per page, you really need to value its other qualities to justify the purchase.
Score in detail
Print Speed 9
Print Quality 9